by Steve Johnson
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — It’s easy for college students to stay inside their campus bubble and never interact with the town in which they spend some very formative years.
But Benedictine College, located in Atchison with a mission that focuses on community, faith and scholarship, works to instill a sense of global responsibility in its students.
Recently, one Benedictine group, the Presidential Ambassadors, decided to step outside its regular academic pursuits and do something directly for the people of Atchison. The result was a $1,500 donation to Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.
The ambassadors are made up of academic high-achievers who have earned full-tuition Presidential Scholarships to Benedictine College.
“The Presidential Ambassadors have traditionally sponsored more academic events like Great Books discussions or fireside chats with faculty,” said Lucy Leighton, a junior education major who headed up the committee to put on an event that would raise funds for a local charity.
“We wanted to do a social event this time,” she said.
That event became the Holly Ball, the brainchild of Mary Catherine Willacker and Victoria Finders, two freshmen members of the Presidential Ambassadors group. Other members of the event committee were Sarah Salter, William Green, Cathryn Treco, Stephanie Baalman, Lillian Hoover and Alyssa Patterson.
“We wanted to do a dance and, as soon as we suggested that, everyone jumped on board,” said Willackers. “And we wanted to foster a relationship with the town. I’m from a small town and I love Atchison, and we all wanted to do something that would get students interacting with the city.”
The group decided on a Christmas event and selected Catholic Charities as the beneficiary. As well as charging a nominal $5 fee to attend, which encouraged student participation, the Presidential Ambassadors decided to raffle off prizes solicited from local Atchison businesses. Among the businesses that participated were ALPS Groceries, Atchison Outfitters, Favorite Things, Rudolph’s and Snow Ball Bistro. (Paolucci’s also offered to donate the catering, but events on college property are contractually required to work with the official food service vendor on campus.)
“It was really cool to do an event where we could show all the businesses that donated and wanted to be involved with the college,” said Willackers.
Between 400 and 500 students attended the dance and the Presidential Ambassadors netted $1,500 for Catholic Charities.
“We chose Catholic Charities because the money would stay local, and the organization is really good about accounting for where the money goes,” said Leighton.
Cindy Gillispie is the manager of the Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas office in Atchison, which opened about two-and-a-half years ago. She was impressed with the professionalism and enthusiasm of the Benedictine students.
“I was honored that they came to me,” she said. “I am just amazed at how this one group of students took this vision and ran with it, turning it into $1,500 to help us help people in Atchison — to help us feed them and clothe them and help with their utilities or rent or medical prescriptions.”
Gillispie estimated that the donation would directly provide assistance to at least 15 to 20 families with rent, utilities or food. She has worked with a number of student groups at Benedictine College, from the Student Government Association to the College Ministry Service Team and even various athletic teams.
“It has been a blast working with the students. I get to know them personally and I even have some who come in regularly and volunteer to help with the food pantry, answer phones and other things,” she said. “I feel blessed that the college supports me and Catholic Charities. If I need something, all I have to do is call and they come running.”